If you long to have a glorious glow, you may well sunbathe either outdoors in the sunlight or on indoor tanning beds. Whichever option you pick, most people choose to use a tanning lotion to expedite the process as well as protecting their skin. Or at least that’s the theory.
Tanning lotions, including self-tanners, aren’t always as safe as they may seem. By trying to protect your skin, you could, in fact, be exposing yourself to dangers.
Here’s a closer look at the different tanning lotions on the market and the health risks that are linked to their use.
Understanding Self Tanners
Fake tan has been used for years and many people feel this is the only way to get a bronzed appearance without risking their health. However, despite no exposure to UV rays, self-tanning products aren’t as safe as many people may have assumed.
To understand tanning lotions health risks, it’s necessary to first look at how they work.
Dihydroxyacetone, also known as DHA, is a type of sugar that affects the amino acids in the skin and is the active ingredient in self-tanning formulas. It’s responsible for creating the golden tan and the browning of the skin by stimulating the production of melanoidins, a type of pigment.
The FDA approved its use on the skin back in 1977 but only for topical application. This means if you’re using it as part of a spray tan, or in a spray formula, you’re at risk of inhaling micro-components, which aren’t considered to be safe.
DHA was originally thought to only sit on the uppermost layer of the skin, which is the reason it was originally passed as safe.
However, there are now suggestions that it can gradually migrate through the dead skin that sits on the surface and reach the active skin organ that lies underneath. And therein lies the potential problem.
What are the Potential Side Effects of DHA?
Some users will find that they are unable to tolerate DHA on their skin, and application of a self-tanner lotion will result in contact dermatitis. Symptoms include itching, redness and even peeling of the skin. Upon cessation of the self tanner, symptoms should ease and clear.
Even if you’ve had no reaction to the use of DHA before, it’s always possible that you may experience problems in the future. This is because the compound must be formulated and stored according to very strict conditions to remain stable.
Failure to adhere to these exacting standards causes the DHA to begin to break down, causing extreme irritation to skin when applied.
It doesn’t end there however, as research has shown that DHA has the ability to negatively affect the structure of the skin, creating more free radicals. This is particularly the case when the skin is exposed to UV rays after self-tanner has been applied; one study revealed that 180% more free radicals were generated.
Free radicals don’t just speed up the ageing process, they are also linked to an increased risk of developing skin cancer.
Inhaling DHA has the potential to lead to even worse effects; current safety advice is to avoid contact with any mucous membranes. This includes making sure you don’t breathe it in. The problem is that when you have a spray tan or use a tan lotion that’s in a spray format, micro-components will spread through the air, which you could then inhale.
If DHA is inhaled, scientists believe that it has the ability to not just cause unpleasant symptoms such as nausea and headaches, but also to break down DNA leading to lung disease and possibly cancer.
Even if you opt to avoid the self-tanning lotion and simply want a product that helps you to get a quicker, more even colour, you could find you run into problems too. It’s hard to believe that a simple moisturiser could be detrimental to your health but some ingredients which are often included carry significant risk.
Here’s a list of some common elements of tan lotions which have the potential to be harmful:
Despite sounding like a gentle and natural substance, mineral oil is actually a byproduct of petroleum. It’s comedogenic, which means that it blocks the pores of the skin and can prevent toxins from being excreted. Extended use can be dangerous as there’s evidence of a hike in the incidence of skin cancer by up to 70%.
Not the easiest name to pronounce, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate is often described as a natural preservative. However, even at concentrations of less than 1%, it can burn the skin and eyes.
It can break down to formaldehyde within the skin, which is carcinogenic. With no long-term studies into the overall effect of sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, the jury is still out about the potential dangers.
Octyl stearate is another comedogenic and has the potential to cause severe irritation.
This is a chemical used in dry cleaning. Do you really want to smother this on your skin? Enough said…
As well as being another comedogenic, isopropyl myristate can bind to nitrates which are carcinogenic.
Various Other Chemicals
Many suntan lotions are scented and coloured, and chemicals are caused to create this. In the vast majority of cases, chemicals are used to achieve this effect and some may contain known carcinogens, such as methylene chloride.
The truth is, whether you’re tanning indoors or outside, when you’re covering your body with tan lotion, you’re smearing a mixture of petroleum byproducts, chemicals and other irritants across your skin. While you may not notice any immediate adverse effects, there are invisible dangers which you could be exposing yourself to.
It’s worth adding an extra note about the category of tanning lotions which are known as tingle tanners. These are almost exclusively used for indoor sunbeds and claim to provide a deeper tan more quickly.
The active ingredients are benzyl nicotinate and methyl nicotinate; these open up the capillaries near the surface of the skin and increase microcirculation. The sensation isn’t particularly comfortable and can burn which is why the product is only recommended for use on those who have been tanning regularly, and who don’t have sensitive skin.
Aside from the discomfort from using a tingle tanner, not everyone is able to tolerate them on their skin. Tanning tinglers can cause serious skin reactions, including a red rash and severe irritation. If you put water on the rash it can reactivate the tingle, making the symptoms worse and more prolonged.
You should also avoid touching children and babies after you’ve used a tingle product as it’s possible to inadvertently transfer some onto their skin. This can cause very marked hives and other skin reactions in the infant and may necessitate hospital treatment.
Proceed with Extreme Caution
Most people choose fake tan or tan lotion to help protect their skin as well as enhancing their golden glow. Unfortunately, using these kinds of products on the skin can end up causing more harm.
If you decide to use any kind of tanning products, try and choose a formula that’s as natural as possible and doesn’t contain any of the elements mentioned above.
Also, do remember that you won’t have any protection from UV rays and will burn just as easily as before. The effects of not taking care of your skin won’t always be immediate and can take a decade or more to develop.
Make smart decisions now about the dangers of tanning lotions and your future skin will thank you for it.